Sparks from Rusty Iron Balls

When two balls strike white sparks fly.

Scientific name: The thermite reaction between aluminum and iron oxide in small scale is demonstrated.

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Safety

Wear eye protection goggles and gloves. Watch your fingers when you bring the balls together!

Always follow general safety recommendations. Please note that conducting chemistry experiments you must comply with the relevant legal procedures in your country.

Reaction formula

Fe2O3 + 2Al → Al2O3 + 2Fe

Step-by-step instruction

  1. This experiment is a variation of well-known thermite reaction between aluminum and iron oxide in a small scale. This experiment is safe for indoor demonstration.
  2. Prepare two rusted iron balls and a piece of aluminum foil.
  3. Wrap one of the balls with the foil.
  4. Strike the two balls with a glancing blow. Be careful with your fingers.
  5. White sparks appear when the two balls bang.
  6. Rotate the balls and repeat the procedure with fresh surfaces.

Scientific background

Aluminum is more active than iron and stands in the electrochemical series of metal activity more left. Due to this fact aluminum may reduce iron from iron compounds including oxide. For the reaction to start the system should possess some minimal energy called activation energy. In the classical variant of thermite reaction between aluminum and iron oxide this energy is provided in the form of heat produced in the burning reaction of magnesium ribbon. In the considered version of the experiment we impart energy to the system by striking the balls. The kinetic energy of the bang is transformed to the internal energy of the system and when it reaches the activation energy level the reaction begins. The reaction of iron oxide and aluminum is highly exothermic since the energy level of the products is much lower than the energy level of the reagents. The produced thermal energy is released in the form of noise and sparks.

Danger:
Coolness:
Difficulty:

Published on 09 September 2015

  • Fire
  • Heating with fire
  • Explosion
  • Poisoned gas
  • Organic
  • Electricity
  • Solution
  • Oxidation reduction
  • Color change
  • Precipitate
  • Gassing
  • Catalyst